Malaysia activists slam failure to curb Penan rape cases

Posted on July 7, 2010. Filed under: Indigenous People |

-AFP-

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian activists on Tuesday slammed the government for failing to curb an epidemic of rape and harassment against women and girls from the Penan tribe in Borneo.

A landmark official investigation released last September confirmed that indigenous people living in remote areas of Malaysian Borneo were being targeted by timber firm workers including some who preyed on schoolgirls.

But the Penan Support Group, a team representing 36 rights groups, said new cases continue to take place and released accounts of victims who described violent sexual exploitation in their isolated communities.

“Even though the report has confirmed sexual assaults indeed take place, the government remains in denial and no headway has been made since then,” spokesman John Liu told a news conference.

It said that among the new cases was a 14-year-old girl who was raped and then forced to marry her attacker, who then abandoned her when she was heavily pregnant.

Another victim said she and her sister were abducted by two loggers and kept in a logging camp for a week, where she was beaten and raped repeatedly and left pregnant.

The government probe said much of the sexual abuse took place when Penan youngsters were forced to hitch rides with loggers to travel between the dense rainforest and boarding schools in larger towns.

“The abuse is systematic and structural,” said Penan Support Group member Wong Su Zane, from the Women’s Aid Organisation.

“The perpetrators are from the logging company and they have a lot of power over the Penans who depend on them, while the Penan women have no access to justice and redress,” Wong said.

The rape allegations are just one of the grievances that the Penan are fighting to highlight.

There are at least 10,000 Penan in Sarawak, but their way of life is under threat from extensive logging of their traditional hunting grounds, as well as the spread of palm oil and timber plantations.

Penan chiefs say that after enduring decades of logging which has decimated the jungles they rely on for food and shelter, they now face the new threat of plantations which will destroy forest resources and pollute the rivers.

The tribespeople armed with spears and blowpipes have previously set up blockades against logging and plantations on their ancestral land.

The plight of the Penan people was made famous in the 1990s by environmental activist Bruno Manser, who campaigned to protect their way of life and fend off the loggers, before he vanished in 2000 amid suspicion of foul play.

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